Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Mexico with my BFF

My best friend Angel and I took a girls' trip to Playa del Carmen a few weeks ago and it was pure magic. Here are some highlights:

Long story short, Angel and I ended up going to one of those timeshare presentations where in exchange for sitting through a sales pitch you are offered a series of "thank you gifts". We also had to pretend to be a couple, which added a very amusing dimension to the experience (only couples with both members present could qualify for the bonus stuff). Lemme tell you, those timeshare people have mastered the art of not taking no for an answer, but we were strong in our refusal to spend thousands of dollars to get the deal of our lives. After saying no to about eighteen different people and their managers, we were finally out of there. Our compensation? Ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres, a golf cart rental on the island, a bottle of tequila, and a major discount on a tour of Chichén Itzá the next day. 

The ocean at Isla Mujeres was unbelievable. I was fascinated by the distinct color lines in the water. What causes that? A sudden depth change? 

Speaking of water, check out this cool outdoor chandelier we spotted at a bar. It is made of lightbulbs filled with water and was suspended from a big palm tree. Totally up my alley, especially because so much of the art I'm making these days is inspired by chandeliers.

A quiet, contemplative moment on the ferry heading back to Cancun. I distinctly remember this moment. I was starting to feel like myself again after many months in a tough emotional state. Something about sun and sand and saltwater cures everything, not to mention adventures with your best friend.

On our second day we took a bus tour to Chichén Itzá, and along the way stopped at a Mayan village to have lunch and swim in a cenote. The Yucatán peninsula is made of karst limestone and is full of sinkholes, caves, and underground lakes and rivers. Swimming in this cenote was just what my body and soul needed. I was one of the first people in the water and had the luxury of swimming around in peace. Being in the fresh water under that beam of sunlight was transformative.

Here we are dying of heat at Chichén Itzá. Back in college I took a class called Mesoamerican Art History and never imagined that I'd actually get to visit the ruins in person one day. We had a fabulous tour guide who was half Maya, and the information he gave us really enriched the experience. We learned about the absolute genius astronomical and mathematical understanding the Maya had, how they developed the concept of zero, had complex hieroglyphics, made paper, recorded information, had a calendar, understood everything about the celestial bodies and seasons. So sad that most of that knowledge has been lost over time...

This wall of carved stone skulls was pretty impressive. Blood and ritual death were major themes in a lot of the temple imagery. I was also intrigued by the Maya's skull deformation practices.

After Chichén Itzá we visited a colonial town called Valladolid. This church in the center plaza was built by the Spanish using many stones from Maya ruins. You can even spot some hieroglyphics on some of the pieces. What a complex, complicated history this region has...

I'm always a sucker for old tiles...these were in the center of Valladolid. Love the colors and pattern, and my running shoes blended right in. 

After visiting the ruins, we finally went out salsa dancing in Playa del Carmen. It was a most memorable night. I danced my heart out on the floor, and even went up on stage for a no-fear YOLO solo with the Cuban band. This is who I am. This is who I want to be, always. Alive, spontaneous, and fun. A free, adventurous spirit. So good to be back to my roots.

I love these cute little birds and the rich colors of the algae and water. Sadly it was a short trip to Mexico, but so refreshing and totally worth it. I am dying to go back. I left a piece of my heart in Playa del Carmen for sure.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spreading Love All Over the World

Caricature my friend Rrramone did of me back in 2006. I was living in Maputo at the time.  I definitely feel like this.

As you can imagine, I am going through a roller coaster of emotions these days. But mostly I feel peace and excitement, and lots of love amid heartache.

For many years the thing I most feared was not being together with Rico. I knew how much it would hurt for us to break up. I felt the weight of the multiple personal-family-business connections our parting would disrupt. Rico works with my family. My mom is his boss. My aunt and uncle are the investors in the businesses they run together. (Rico and my mom actually are involved in three different businesses together, all under the same big umbrella though...) Also, there is the small detail of me wanting to make a living as an artist and translator and traveler, which is not always easy even with a gainfully employed partner.

And of course there is a geographic component to how connected we are. My mom lives just up the hill from us, so it's about 3 minutes walking to get from one house to the next. My studio is in my mom's basement. My gallery is downtown, two blocks from the clocks and home decor business Rico now runs (one of the above-mentioned businesses). Rico's mom lives 10 minutes down the road by car, near the marina.

Everything is together. Has been together. Is always together. Family, business, not wanting to intrude, having to always strategize, compartmentalize personal and professional, put up limits but also have no definition to what is family and what is business.

Rico and I started out working together, as you know. Living together. Being 100% together from the moment I set foot in Mozambique. We were a team on all fronts. We continue to be a team on all fronts. We are a really good match, life partners is how it feels. We could run the world together, that's for sure.

So all of this to say...deciding to separate was excruciatingly hard and took a long time for me to find clarity about what I was feeling. But, after a long summer and winter and start of spring examining ourselves and our relationship, Rico and I looked at each other a couple Sundays ago and just knew. It was over. We have evolved into something new, whatever's next.

It is one of the greatest gifts I've ever felt to know that he and I are at peace. That we see eye to eye and feel heart to heart about where we started and where we are now ending. That we are separating but the other interconnected layers of our lives can continue, will continue.

Likely there will be better harmony there, as well. I really like Rico's mom, for example, but it's a bummer to hang out with your mother-in-law when you are contemplating the impending breakup with her son. So she and I can hang out now like I imagine we've both always wanted to. Having fun. Dancing somewhere. I can hang out with my mom again and have it be just mom. I'm not self-censoring all the time, we can travel to Italy together, eat and drink and visit and hike. Enjoy life.

I am in awe to see how many of the other relationships in my life have also healed in the wake of me and Rico separating - and also of my grandma passing away. Gina, my mom's mom, finally let go at age 94 and went to have a party with all her friends up in the sky from Italy and all around the world who have been waiting for her arrival.  So after my grandma passing and then Rico and I separating, I have experienced so much healing, so much closeness and authenticity with the people I love. I am grateful for all the support and to be able to be real with my people, without walls around my heart and constantly putting up a positive front.

Gina Paola Cantoni. 1922-2016. I look a lot like her and have inherited many of her traits and interests.

Also, conveniently, people can give double condolences to the family. Sorry about Gina. Sorry about Rico and Ali.

I've been meeting the most incredible strangers lately, too, as a bonus gift from the universe. People with whom I can share a moment or two whenever paths randomly cross in a café or restaurant or while listening to live music. Travel reminds me to disconnect from the phone and be a person in the present moment. Eye contact. Breath. Sand. Saying hello and good morning. Smiling whenever people pass me to see who I can get to smile back. Spreading love all over the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


I just had the strangest vision - of what my new house will look like. What furniture I will have in the space. The cedar chest and walnut bench. An old family desk and mirror, my grandfather's leather chair.

Contemplating what is important to me: light, minimalist, with a full mirror,  empty floor to dance, a place to write. A place for a cat(s).

A place for love, always.

To be safe and easy, to quietly hold all the gifts from these years, from knowing you.

Remember what we created. It is ours, always.

(Rico and I have mutually and lovingly decided to go our separate ways. This is how I feel currently. Love all of you.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On the Attacks

Yesterday, waking to the news of the attacks on the Brussels airport and metro system, I felt outrage and despair at the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. So wrong and horrible and tragic. I thought of my childhood friend Vincent who is from Belgium, currently living in Nairobi, with a girlfriend who works in the UN system. My friends group from Mozambique came to mind, so many of whom live and work in the EU. I thought back to the Paris attacks, to San Bernardino, Boston, Madrid, London, 9/11.

When attacks feel close to home (or are in our backyards) we take notice. We are put on edge, we feel fear, we change our Facebook profiles to be flags in solidarity, we check in as 'safe' but often feel anything but. The message seems to be that the terrorists are always ready, always a step ahead, will always catch us by surprise.

I know there have been attacks just this past week in the Ivory Coast and in Turkey. Around the time of the Paris attacks there was also Lebanon and Iraq. And of course the countless other bombings that happen throughout the Middle East and Africa - suicide and otherwise - not to mention the drones and operations and refugee crisis and political chess game.

And yet those form a blur in my mind, even though as a global citizen deeply concerned about our world, I don't want them to. I see the news and lament about how terrible it is, and then go on about my day. It's easy to pretend it's not happening when it's far away. Easy to believe it's about "those people" and maintain the illusion that we are not connected, involved, responsible.

I think of my friend Dena who is Assyrian-Canadian and the only person in my midst who is consistently vocal about how hypocritical our Western position is. I'm not talking the obligatory re-post of some article that says "There's shit happening in these other places, too! Solidarity with ___________________ (fill in the blank to choose location we likely can't find on the map yet are financing weapons for and bombing on the regular)." No, my friend Dena actually goes there and criticizes from a human standpoint, showing mothers holding dead children and other un-ignorable losses of innocent life. She has opened my eyes to what happens in "those places" (and in Iraq in particular, because that's where her family is from). It feels real, personal, connected. So different from what you read in the news.

We need more of these connections and real conversations. How diverse are our circles? Do you know anybody from Iraq or Syria or Yemen or Palestine? Do you know any locals or expats living in the Middle East or Africa? Have you ever traveled to these places? Do you know anybody in the military who has served in these places? Do you know anybody who is Muslim? Do you know any refugees? Do you know anybody who is young and unemployed? Do you know anyone in politics? Do you know anybody who has been directly impacted by an attack?

Useful questions for home issues, too:

Do you know anybody who supports Trump? Do you know anybody in Flint, Michigan? Do you know anybody who depends on public assistance to survive? Do you know any billionaires?  Do you know anyone who is homeless? Do you know anyone who has been incarcerated? Do you know any recent immigrants?  Do you know anyone who loves their guns? Do you know anyone who has witnessed a mass shooting? Do you know anyone who has been impacted by police violence? Do you know any police officers? Are you friends with anyone of a different race than your own? Do you know anyone who has suffered racism?

The basic idea being: Do you know what it's like to walk in another's shoes? How do those realities shape our political sphere? Who has power and a voice, and who does not? Do we have any common ground at all in our differences or are we destined to fight it out tooth and nail, across an ever-widening chasm?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Day Trip to Slovenia: History, Nature and Wine

The region where my grandmother's family is from is right on the border of Italy and Slovenia, which makes for easy cross-cultural day tripping. Several of my childhood friends are Slovene and now work in the wine industry and/or as tour guides. My mom and I spent an afternoon in the able hands of Aleks and Marjana and enjoyed some spectacular nature, history, and local wines.

We started by climbing a spiral staircase belvedere tower in the tiny village of Gonjace. Not for those with fear of heights, but the reward is 360-degree views of the Collio hills, vineyards, terra-cotta roofs, and depending on which way you are looking either the Alps or the Adriatic.

view of collio hills slovenia

At the top of the belvedere is this compass that shows the direction of the nearby towns and cities. I have a thing for compasses, if you didn't know. :)

compass and distances in gonjace slovenia belvedere

Our next stop was Smartno, a historic fortified village that has been beautifully restored.

smartno slovenia

My friend Alex told us many stories about the culture of the place - like the wreath of dried wildflowers on the door that would have signified there is a single woman at the house who is eligible for marriage...or the importance of having greenery and a grapevine in front of the house.

green door and vine at smartno slovenia

I first met Aleks and his sister Marjana we were little kids. It's so cool to see where we all are now, and how many of our interests and occupations are aligned. Aleks is a history enthusiast, personal trainer, and regional tour guide who speaks multiple languages.

Aleks took us to a hidden gem in the Brda region of the Slovenian countryside. We drove along a dirt road through grape fields and into the winter forest, and eventually came upon this clear pool with a waterfall. The water spills over a wall that apparently was built by the French during Napoleon's occupation in the late 1700's or early 1800's.

waterfall in slovenia

Walking down a small path from the main waterfall, you reach the truly impressive sight: another small waterfall and a natural stone bridge with dark emerald water running underneath. The water color in this part of the world is unreal - either intense deep green or milky turquoise blue - thanks to the karst limestone that makes up most of the river beds. What a gem!

natural stone bridge and waterfall in Brda, Slovenia

After our nature walk, we headed to the wine cellar (cantina) where Marjana works. It is a large facility but still feels very personal and authentic, especially when you have an inside connection. :)

klet brda wine cellar slovenia

We got to tour the special reserve cellar that houses something crazy like 80,000 bottles of vintage wine, some dating back to the 1960's. Imagine being able to pick one bottle at random and taste what is inside!

klet brda special reserve wine cellar

Here I am with Marjana amid oak barrels. She and I are brainstorming some wine tourism ideas: stay tuned, especially if you are interested in visiting this region of the world.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Venice: Day 3

My third day in Venice started at the crack of dawn for a little running tourism with Venice by Run. Following the instructions I'd been given via email, I made my way to Campo San Bartolomeo at 6:50am. The city was completely deserted and it was a special thrill to be out at that hour, like I was on a secret mission of some sort. Arriving at the meeting point, I immediately spotted my guide Giulia (not hard because she was the only other person around and we were wearing nearly identical neon pink jackets). I couldn't believe it!

Venice by Run

If you enjoy running and are in Venice, I can't recommend this enough. You get to experience the major tourist points of the city with nobody else around, plus a wealth of information about the history and culture, and all the insider tips you could hope for about where to eat and drink and hang out like a local...not to mention a good workout!

After the run, I had breakfast and then went out for my daily wander. This piece of street art caught my eye on the way to Accademia. What a complicated relationship tourism destinations have with tourists. Can't stand them, can't manage to live without them.

Venice Tourist street art

It started raining again, and I eventually made my way to the Peggy Guggenheim museum to take refuge from the dreary weather. I found much inspiration in the collection (which I will share in another post) but one of the things that I most loved seeing was this group of children touring the museum. So important to expose young people to art! 

Children at Peggy Guggenheim Collection

I had a Table for One lunch at the museum cafe (an easy solo lunch, especially since I sat at a bar with a window seat). I enjoyed a salad with red radicchio from Treviso, pecorino cheese, and walnuts plus the ubiquitous bread basket that accompanies all meals in Italy. The courtyard view and people watching made it a truly enjoyable meal.

Radicchio salad

After the museum visit, I went wandering again. As I learned in my morning run with Giulia, there are a few campos in Venice that still remain true to the roots of that word: small fields/patches of vegetation in a courtyard square. 

Campo in Venice Italy

I continued my walk along the Zattere, the old timber delivery area of the city that is now a spacious promenade with breathtaking views. This decorated crane caught my eye - I wonder what it is used for, and whether it is common practice to decorate industrial machinery in Venice.

Crane on dock in Venice

Around the corner from the Zattere is a gondola building workshop housed in a very old building, even for Venice standards. I love the collection of hats on the wall.

Gondola workshop Venice Italy

One of the things I really wanted to do while in Venice was eat cichetti (local version of tapas) and have a spritz (local preferred happy hour drink). The famous Cantine del Vino già Schiavi was nearby the gondola workshop and absolutely packed with people, so I ducked in and made my way to the counter.

Cantine del Vino Gia Schiavi Venice

The small bar and bottle shop didn't disappoint with its ambience or selection of cichetti. I tried two bruschetta-style toasts: one with creamed cod and the other with egg salad topped with edible flowers. And of course an aperol spritz. I enjoyed eavesdropping on multiple conversations while having my happy hour treats.

Wine shop in Venice Italy

I had time for one more stop in the afternoon, so I headed to the Cà Rezzonico, an absolutely impressive palazzo that houses the museum of 18th century Venice. My jaw dropped at the luxury of the architecture and interior furnishings, starting with the internal courtyard in the entryway.

Ca Rezzonico Venice Italy

At Cà Rezzonico I saw perhaps the most lavish and intricate chandelier I've ever set eyes on. That glasswork and colors and flowers!! Surreal.

Murano glass floral chandelier

There are three floors of priceless art at the palazzo, but the piece that stood out the most for me was this marble bust of a veiled woman by Antonio Corradini (1725). How on earth can somebody create such perfection from stone? That drapery is so perfect and gauze-like and yet you can still see her expression underneath. Unreal.

Bust of a Veiled Woman - Antonio Corrandini

After viewing all the old masters at the palazzo, I had to rush back across the city to the Teatro la Fenice for a concert I'd purchased a ticket for prior to leaving the US (seemed like a guaranteed good activity for a solo traveler). I shared a box seat with a German lady and and a very funny older Italian woman whose daughter was playing trumpet in the orchestra. Definitely a worthwhile experience, and a stellar way to end my third day in Venice.

teatro la fenice venice

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Venice: Island Hopping on Afternoon of Day 2

Taking advantage of the clear, dry weather I decided to visit the islands of Burano and Murano on the afternoon of my second day in Venice. I bought a multi-stop vaporetto ticket and boarded line 12 at Fondamenta Nove, just a short walk from the Gesuiti church. If you look all the way in the distance you can see the snow-covered Alps.

Vaporetto and Venice Lagoon

Riding the vaporetto is an ideal sightseeing method. We passed in front of the cemetery island (Isola di San Michele),  several small uninhabited islands with abandoned buildings in ruin, and made stops at Murano and Mazzorbo islands (at the latter there is a restaurant and boutique hotel called Venissa that I'd really like to try in the future, a proponent of "zero-kilometer sourcing"...sadly it was closed for the season).

Laguna di Venezia

After about 45 minutes on the boat we arrived at Burano, the island famous for its lace making tradition and brightly colored houses. I didn't focus much on the lace (I already have bags and bags of antique handmade lace from my family that I struggle to put to use) rather I spent my visit looking at the colors and taking photos.

Burano Island Colorful Houses and Canal

Yes, Burano is touristy but it is possible to find some space to yourself, especially in the off season. All you need to do is take a few turns away from the main strip and start exploring. The palette and composition of this archway caught my eye, and from there I found a quiet series of back streets.

Arched Doorway in Burano Venice Italy

The repetition of rectangles, crumbling plaster, and marble crest on this façade hit all the right notes. I wished the business had been open, I was very curious about who and what went on inside.

Old Colorful Houses in Burano Venice

I'd been to Burano once before, as a child, and I remember being bowled over by all the colors. Apparently there is an architectural preservation code in place and people have to maintain the hue of their house or building in a way that is faithful to history.

Church Bell Tower in Burano Venice Italy

After a solid hour of exploring and photography, it was time for a late lunch. I found an outdoor cafe near the base of the church bell tower and ordered a grilled calamari salad and a glass of pinot grigio. Perfection!

Calamari Salad in Burano Venice

The next stop on my island itinerary was Murano, the heart of Venice's centuries-old glass making tradition. I wasn't able to tour any of the factories due to the late hour, but I hope to do a fornace visit on a future trip.

Murano glass factory blue door with brick

There is a major connection between my jewelry work and Murano glass: this is the origin of many of the trade beads that were taken to Africa by the Portuguese. It blows my mind to realize that it was right here, 200-400 years ago, that artisans were making beads that would cross the world, be lost to sea because of shipwrecks, wash up on the beaches of Mozambique Island, be collected by local boys, and end up in my jewelry here in California...their destiny to be continued by the eventual wearer of the piece. The essence of Origins & Routes.

Blue Glass Sculpture in Murano Venice Italy

I enjoyed seeing this massive blue glass sculpture near the factories, a dose of contemporary art to contrast with all the history and remind us that this tradition is not dead. Although it is increasingly difficult to sustain, as is the case all around the world with artisanal production. Venice is full of cheap Chinese imports, and one must be careful not to buy knockoffs thinking they are original Murano glass.

I walked around the island for about an hour, and as the sun dipped down the photography became golden. The light on these boats was simply perfect.

Boats in Murano Venice Italy

In the absence of direct light, you get an even greater appreciation for all the colors on the buildings. I could have spent an eternity sitting on that red bench and taking in the atmosphere, but alas I had a ferry to catch.

Piazza in Murano Venice Italy

The timing of my vaporetto ride back to Venice was impeccable. I watched the sky and water slowly shift from blue to gray, silhouetting the city in the distance. Seagulls dipped and dived all around the boat, fellow riders chatted in a dozen different languages, and I pulled my hood up tight around my face, a cocoon of warmth against the wind and sea spray.  

Sunset on the Water in Venice Lagoon